World Bank accused of climate change “hijack”

BANGKOK – Developing countries and environmental groups accused the World Bank on Friday of trying to seize control of the billions of dollars of aid that will be used to tackle climate change in the next four decades.

“The World Bank’s foray into climate change has gone down like a lead balloon,” Friends of the Earth campaigner Tom Picken said at the end of a major climate change conference in the Thai capital.

“Many countries and civil society have expressed outrage at the World Bank’s attempted hijacking of real efforts to fund climate change efforts,” he said.

Read moreWorld Bank accused of climate change “hijack”

Food prices to rise for years, biofuel firms say

LONDON – Staple food prices will rise for some years, but should eventually fall to historical averages as harvests increase, biofuel company executives said on Thursday.

Soaring demand for better quality food from rapidly industrializing emerging markets such as China, supply shortages, increased demand for biofuels, and a surging appetite for food commodities by investment funds, have combined to push prices of basic foods higher and higher in recent months.

Stephane Delodder, managing partner of Netherlands-based consultancy iFuel Corporate Advisory, told a conference the problem of rising food prices would persist for some years.

Market forces should eventually help rebalance supply and demand, especially in markets which are not highly regulated, but this could take some time.

“(It could be) a few years at most before the situation returns to normal,” Delodder said.

He said grains and oilseed futures markets, which have corrected down recently after meteoric rises, may already be signaling that supply will rise as farmers raise plantings.

Read moreFood prices to rise for years, biofuel firms say

Despite denials, military still studying clandestine use of blogs

It was revealed this week by Wired that a study written for the U.S. Special Operations Command in 2006 recommended “clandestinely recruiting or hiring prominent bloggers” in order to promote messages favorable to the military. It also raised the possibility of altering an “enemy blog” by hacking to destroy its credibility or use it to spread false information.

The military has downplayed this study as an “academic exercise,” but its conclusions appear to match closely with a strong and growing focus by the Pentagon on what it calls “information warfare.”

Underlining this interest, this past January former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld resurfaced for the first time in over a year to address a conference on “Network Centric Warfare.” He complained that Islamic radicals are winning the propaganda battle against the United States and proposed a “21st-century agency for global communications” that would tell the American side of the story, using resources ranging “from blogs to online social-networking sites to talk radio.”

During the question session afterward, Rumsfeld suggested again that “a new agency has to be something that would take advantage of the wonderful opportunities that exist today. There are multiple channels for information . . . The Internet is there, blogs are there, talk radio is there, e-mails are there. There are all kinds of opportunities.”

Until recently, the popular concept of information warfare primarily involved hacking or denial of service attacks deployed against blogs and websites in order to convey a political statement.

For example, at the time of the invasion of Iraq in 2003, there were reports of widespread hacking of both military and commercial websites. According to ZDNet, “most notably, the US Navy Web site was hacked by an activist called Apocalypse. The message posted on the site read: ‘No War, U.S.A think they can tell the world what to do.'” A few months later, several NASA sites were similarly hacked by Brazilian anti-war protesters.

Read moreDespite denials, military still studying clandestine use of blogs

Are the oceans giving up?

Studies seem to indicate that oceans, which are major carbon sinks, may have had enough. If so, the consequences are BAD, writes Jayalakshmi K.

Ocean deserts, which are non-productive areas, have increased by 15 per cent in the period 1998-2007, according to a study done by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) in the US and the University of Hawaii. This translates into a total of 6.6 million sq km. On the whole, there are 51 million sq km of such desert zones. The data was collected by Nasa’s orbiting SeaStar craft.

Attributed mostly to warming surface waters, which is happening at a rate of 1 per cent every year, this creates many layers in the ocean waters, preventing deep ocean nutrients from rising to the surface and feeding plant life.

Read moreAre the oceans giving up?

Lawmakers Heavily Invested in Defense

WASHINGTON (AP) – Members of Congress have as much as $196 million collectively invested in companies doing business with the Defense Department, earning millions since the onset of the Iraq war, according to a study by a nonpartisan research group.

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We spied on 36,000 customers using the internet, admits BT

BT tested secret “spyware” on tens of thousands of its broadband customers without their knowledge, it admitted yesterday.

It carried out covert trials of a system which monitors every internet page a user visits.

Companies can exploit such data to target users with tailored online advertisements.

An investigation into the affair has been started by the Information Commissioner, the personal data watchdog.

Privacy campaigners reacted with horror, accusing BT of illegal interception on a huge scale. Yesterday, the company was forced to admit that it had monitored the web browsing habits of 36,000 customers.

The scandal came to light only after some customers stumbled across tell-tale signs of spying. At first, they were wrongly told a software virus was to blame.


BT carried out undercover trials of a system which records every website a customer visits (below)

Executives insisted they had not broken the law and said no “personally identifiable information” had been shared or divulged.

BT said it randomly chose 36,000 broadband users for a “small-scale technical trial” in 2006 and 2007.

The monitoring system, developed by U.S. software company Phorm, accesses information from a computer.

It then scans every website a customer visits, silently checking for keywords and building up a unique picture of their interests.

If a user searches online to buy a holiday or expensive TV, for example, or looks for internet dating services or advice on weight loss, the Phorm system will add all the information to their file.

One BT customer who spotted unexplained problems with his computer was told repeatedly by BT helpdesk staff that a virus was to blame.

Read moreWe spied on 36,000 customers using the internet, admits BT

Rush to restrict trade in basic foods

Governments across the developing world are scrambling to boost farm imports and restrict exports in an attempt to forestall rising food prices and social unrest.

Saudi Arabia cut import taxes across a range of food products on Tuesday, slashing its wheat tariff from 25 per cent to zero and reducing tariffs on poultry, dairy produce and vegetable oils.

On Monday, India scrapped tariffs on edible oil and maize and banned exports of all rice except the high-value basmati variety, while Vietnam, the world’s third biggest rice exporter, said it would cut rice exports by 11 per cent this year.

The moves mark a rapid shift away from protecting farmers, who are generally the beneficiaries of food import tariffs, towards cushioning consumers from food shortages and rising prices.

Read moreRush to restrict trade in basic foods